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Heart Of The Matter

Education and Prevention are Crucial to Cardiovascular Health

By Pete Alfano

It’s February, time for another heart-to-heart talk. And we don’t mean Valentine’s Day with images of a heart-shaped box of chocolates, a bouquet of roses, and candlelight dinner.

In case you didn’t know, February is Heart Health Month, a reminder that we shouldn’t take the steady thump, thump, thump, of our heart for granted. Of course, that is easier said than done. It is estimated that if you live to be 80 years old, your heart will beat about 2.5 billion times. Who can count that high?

Nonetheless, we should recognize the warning signs of potential heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control, with the exception of the recent pandemic, heart disease is annually the leading cause of death in the U.S. Cardiovascular disease kills one American every 36 seconds.

The American Heart Association adds that a staggering 48% of Americans have some form of coronary artery disease.

So, how do you know if you have heart disease? Are there any warning signs? There are, although some are often dismissed for other disorders. For example, is that pain in my chest a heart attack or indigestion?

An important factor in evaluating heart health is family history. It is helpful to know whether heart disease is prevalent on either or both sides of the family tree. You don’t want to overlook a genetic component.

There are also other precursors. Elevated blood pressure can lead to heart disease, and there are usually no warning signs. Thus, monitoring blood pressure at home is important, especially if it is prevalent in your family history. The human body has a remarkable capacity to absorb and tolerate stress, but that is not necessarily a good thing if it sends your blood pressure numbers soaring.

Lifestyle plays a part in heart health. Obesity elevates the risk of heart disease and can lead to diabetes. High cholesterol, particularly LDL, the bad kind, smoking, and a lack of physical activity can set you up for heart disease as well.

But not having these risk factors does not make you immune. So, pay attention to potential warning signs such as shortness of breath, extreme fatigue, unexplained swelling of your feet, ankles or legs, chest or neck pain, nausea and vomiting, palpitations, dizziness, confusion and memory loss, and pain in your left arm or side.

Any of these symptoms can mimic other ailments, which is why you should never self-diagnose and seek immediate medical attention instead.

Medical science has developed vaccines to help prevent many diseases. But there is no vaccine to prevent heart disease. The good news is that you don’t need a vaccine for a healthy heart. It revolves around your lifestyle.

Exercise at least three times a week for 30 minutes each time. It can be walking, even housecleaning.

Eat healthier. Smaller portions and a balanced diet are key. Add fiber to your diet as well.

Maintain a healthy weight. Avoid crash diets. Consult your physician to devise a weight-loss plan for you.

Put down the shaker of salt. There is already enough salt in most processed foods.

Cut down on saturated fat. Some fat is good but not saturated fat and trans fats. Yes, that means limit cake, doughnuts, pizza, and any fried food.

Sleep. It may be difficult but getting seven or eight hours of sleep a night keeps your immune system strong.

Fight stress. Whether it is aerobic exercise, yoga, meditation, or just some downtime, you need to take a moment to wind down every day.

Don’t neglect your teeth. There is a link between periodontal (gum) disease and heart disease.

Be prepared. Check with your local Red Cross or visit the American Heart Association website to find where you can complete a course and be certified in CPR. There are a few online-only courses, but you may not be certified unless you attend an in-person course. Knowing how to administer CPR could save someone’s life.


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